Comedy -- like magic -- has to be performed quickly, cleanly and with enough intelligence that it makes the improbable entertaining. Fail to do this, and the comedic illusions lead to disillusions.
"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" fails on all three counts. There are a few funny moments in this story of a Las Vegas magician who loses his magical touch, but the pacing is too slow, the performances too uneven and the writing too juvenile to make this a bewitching comedy.
Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) -- think Siegfried & Roy without the white tigers -- have been the top magicians in Las Vegas for a decade. But audiences have grown weary of their crushed velvet suits, cheesy haircuts, goofy banter and tired tricks.
Toss in a growing interest in the dangerous street magic being done by Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) -- think Criss Angel with more hair -- and the Burt and Anton show is in trouble.
Quicker than you can say "abracadabra," the magic team is dissolved and Wonderstone must find a way to regain the awe he once felt for the world of prestidigitation if he ever hopes to make a comeback.
The script by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Chad Kultgen and Tyler Mitchell comes across as a story written by committee. There are multiple ideas about friendship, respect, wonder and believing in yourself, but they bump into each other instead of smoothly carrying the comedy along.
One moment, Buscemi's character is supposed to be the smart member of the team, then he's visiting poor countries where he's distributing magic kits to hungry and dying children.
Gray starts out being a fearless street performer but that image gets destroyed when Carrey is allowed to lapse into his burst of insanity that turns a character into a cartoon. That's a shame because until that point, his parody of the over-the-top street magicians is smart and funny.
Even Alan Arkin, who plays legendary magician Rance Holloway, turns one of the most interesting characters in the movie into a screaming madman.
Director Don Scardino, a veteran TV director, should have kept his actors in line and not let their flights of fancy become such big distractions. He also has trouble getting the movie started: The introduction of the movie's central magic buddies takes forever. Then, the transformation of Wonderstone from self-absorbed jerk to caring person comes so quickly that it feels painfully forced.
Buried under all the comedy misdirection and emotional sleight of hand is the potential for a good movie. It's a potential that's never fulfilled.
Movie review"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," rated PG-13 for language, sexual content, dangerous stunts. Stars Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Alan Arkin, Olivia Wilde. Directed by Don Scardino. Running time: 100 minutes. Grade: C- Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter.